Why the "Ten Commandments"
Should Not Be Posted
On Public Buildings
The following article is taken from the web site of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Since 1947, Americans United has worked to protect the constitutional
principle of church-state separation, a vital cornerstone of religious liberty. Americans
of many faiths and political viewpoints, individuals from all walks of life, have come
together to defend freedoms. Mandatory prayer in public
schools, tax dollars for parochial schools,
government intrusion into religious affairs,
and meddling in partisan politics by religious groups
are among the troubling issues that threaten the protective wall between church and state.
Visit their web site.
QUOTE from Americans United web site.
AMERICANS UNITED STATEMENT IN
RESPONSE TO THE
FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL'S 'HANG TEN' CAMPAIGN
The Family Research Council, a Washington,
D.C.-based Religious Right group, recently announced a new initiative it calls "Hang
Ten." FRC's project encourages public school authorities and other government
officials to post the Ten Commandments at public buildings. The movement has caught on in
several Kentucky counties recently, and FRC is trying to make it a nationwide phenomenon.
According to Americans United for Separation of
Church and State, government display of religious codes, whether at public schools, city
halls, courtrooms or other government facilities, is a bad idea. Why? Here are ten good
The Constitution mandates the separation of
church and state. This means government is forbidden to meddle in matters of religion.
Promotion of religious ideals is the job of America's houses of worship. Thus government
display of the Ten Commandments violates a fundamental tenet of American life, one that
has given us more religious liberty than any people in world history.
The Supreme Court and lower courts have settled
the issue. In 1980's Stone v. Graham decision, the high court struck down a
Kentucky law that required public schools to post the Ten Commandments. Lower federal
courts have struck down the display of the Decalogue at government buildings as well.
Public schools or local governments that exhibit the Ten Commandments are inviting a
lawsuit they are almost certain to lose. Government officials should not squander taxpayer
dollars on futile litigation.
America is religiously diverse. The United
States is home to nearly 2,000 different religions, traditions, denominations and sects.
While many of these groups revere the Ten Commandments, many do not. If government
officials put up the Decalogue, will they also post the Five Pillars of Islam, the Four
Noble Truths of Buddhism, the Wiccan Rede and the Affirmations of Humanism? Government
should never play favorites when it comes to religion.
Religion doesn't need government's help to
promote the Ten Commandments. For a few thousands years, the leaders of Judaism and
Christianity have been doing a pretty good job of getting the word out about the Ten
Commandments. Interjecting the state in the picture will only mess up a good thing.
There is no "standard version" of the
Ten Commandments. Different religions and denominations list the commandments in
different order and use different language. When government agencies and public schools
post one version and not others, they are taking sides in a (sometimes contentious)
theological debate. That simply is not government's job.
The Ten Commandments are not a
"secular" moral code that everyone can agree on. Indeed, four of the Ten
Commandments are specifically religious in nature. People have fought and died because
they disagreed over what constitutes a "false god" or over the meaning of the
ban on worshipping a "graven image." Read any history of Europe if you want to
see how bad things can get when government decides to take sides in debates like these.
The Ten Commandments are not a magic charm that
can make all of society's problems vanish overnight. Some Religious Right groups and
politicians treat the commandments as though they are a lucky rabbit's foot -- post them
on the wall and all of society's ills will disappear! This is simplistic thinking -- and
it distracts us from the hard work of solving thorny social problems.
The Ten Commandments are open to different
interpretations. One commandment reads, "Thou shall not kill." Or is that
"Thou shall not murder"? The language and meaning depends on what version
of the Bible you read and your faith's understanding of it. If it's the former, does that
really mean all killing, even in self defense? Elsewhere we are admonished to keep
holy the Sabbath -- but is that Friday, Saturday or Sunday? Religious leaders differ on
these questions. They -- not government bureaucrats -- are best suited to interpret the
commandments for their individual congregants.
Politicians and interest groups are exploiting
the Ten Commandments for political gain. Let's face it, many politicians and special
interest groups seem ready these days to use religious symbols and religious language to
win elections. Do we really want sanctimonious, poll-obsessed politicians -- many of whom
don't impose the Ten Commandments on themselves -- imposing them on us?
The Religious Right's use of the Ten
Commandments borders on blasphemy. Religious Right groups like the Christian Coalition
and the FRC use the Ten Commandments to advance their political agenda. They force action
on symbolic resolutions and issues in the hope that politicians who oppose such displays
can be defeated in the next election. People who believe the commandments are God's holy
word should be appalled at this cynical manipulation of a religious document.
So, to any government official who is tempted to
"Hang Ten" at the Family Research Council's urging, we advise a little research
into basic American principles. And remember, Americans United has litigated several of
these case before -- and won them all.
In short, there's a big wave up ahead that will
probably knock the Family Research Council's "Hang Ten" scheme right out of the
water. It's called the Constitution.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog
group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization represents 60,000
members and allied houses of worship in all 50 states.
© Americans United for Separation
of Church and State, 1999.
All rights reserved.
END QUOTE from Americans United web site.